What makes a “Bandit” car a “Bandit”? While the general public believes any black, late ‘70s to be a bandit car, in reality, Pontiac never made a “Bandit” edition. The cars used in the hit movie were Pontiac Trans Am SE (Special Edition) cars in black. The SE cars, coded Y82 for cars with T-tops, and Y81 for solid-roof cars, were built from 1976 through 1978, while Y84 represents the 1979-1981 SE models. There were 2 main colors- black and gold. The 1976 black SE car was built to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Pontiac, and was the first model to kick off the SE edition cars. The Gold SE models, which were coded Y88, use the same stripes and trim as the black cars. There was also a silver SE model, in 1979 celebrating the 10th anniversary. The black cars however are only ones associated with the movie. An interesting side note, while most of the cars in Smokey and the Bandit were SE models, a few non-SE cars were slipped in.
With the increasing popularity of these cars, especially since the 30th anniversary came around, restoring an SE car has never been easier. Specialty restoration stores like Year One and Original Parts Group have tons of parts to help with your project. One area that certainly needs mentioning is the graphics. The SE cars were heavily garnished with gold stripes covering every panel, not to mention the giant screamin’ chicken on the hood. These decals practically created an entire industry, in fact, the leader in automotive restoration graphics started his company manufacturing correct Trans Am decals. While there are other manufacturers, Phoenix Graphix offers what most consider the most complete set of correct TA graphics on the market. We keep mentioning “correct” and that is because most other kits come with multi-piece hood birds. Placing the hood graphic is difficult enough without having to match 3 pieces together. The original hood decal was one piece; it should be replaced with a one-piece bird.
The installation is only part of the process. There are things you need to know before you order your kit. There are 2 styles of SE graphics; 1976-1978 and 1979-1981. The 1976-1978 (SE) used an old English script; 1979-81 SE use block-style lettering. In addition, the engine originally installed in the car makes a difference to. The hood shakers were marked with either “6.6 TA” or “6.6 Liter”. The “6.6 TA” was used on cars installed with the Pontiac 400 engine and have a “Z” listed as the 5th digit in the VIN number. For those who lived in California or high-altitude locations, the Oldsmobile 403 engine SE was offered. This engine is notated by a “K” as the 5th digit in the VIN. The Olds 403 cars are quite rare, with only about 1200 T-topped Y82 SE cars produced in 1977.
Once the kit arrives, the process can begin. While the majority of the decals can be applied by one person, the hood bird requires at least 2 people, but any more than 3 just gets in the way. The biggest trick to correctly applying automotive decals is soapy water. It may sound weird, but a 1-quart spray bottle filled a couple ounces of dish soap and the rest with water will be your best friend. The soapy water serves as a barrier between the decal’s adhesive and the car, temporarily deactivating the glue. This allows you to slide the decal in place without it sticking. Having plenty on hand will make the process easier. Once the position is set, the water solution gets worked out (along with bubbles) of the decal. Spraying a little on top of the decal will also help lubricate the plastic spreader, making sure the decal doesn’t tear or snag. No amount of soapy water will resurrect a crease, so be careful. If you do get a small wrinkle, snag, or bubble don’t freak out, there are fixes but a really bad wrinkle can ruin a decal job, and replacement may be the only option.
Most of the decal placement is generic, the factory didn’t specify a measured placement for the decals, though there are some general guidelines. The hood bird is centered on the hood, and the Phoenix Graphix decal uses notches in the paper to locate the centerline on the center hump of the hood. The front-to-rear placement is a little different. The tail feathers should rest about 1-inch above the front of the hood. The bumper and fender lines are more generic, these get placed in approximate locations. The rear decklid decals are centered, side-to-side on the panel. The hood shaker decal should be placed just below the radius of the top and about a 1\2-inch past the back of the shaker (towards the windshield). The double-line striping will take the longest, as there is a couple of hundred feet of it on the car.
Fred Murfin and the guys at Red Line Auto Sports allowed us to follow along in the process of striping a 1979 Y84 SE Trans Am. The car had been repainted and was in need of fresh decals. The entire process took about 4 hours. These guys have done quite a few of these jobs, so experience shaves time off of a project like this. Expect to take a full day if it is your first time applying decals.
Red Line Auto Sports